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|The relationship between players and officials has been an uneasy one with the implementation of the NHL's new rules.|
|More on officials|
• Do the increased penalty calls disrupt the flow of the game? Not according to the guys in black and white. "I don't believe that," said referee Chris Lee. "There's lots of times when we go from commercial timeout to commercial timeout without a whistle."
• How many nights per month are officials on the road? "I don't know. How many Marriott points do I have?" joked Jean Morin.
Depending on where an official lives, usually within 100 miles of an NHL city, he can count on being on the road 150-160 nights per season.
"It is what it is. It's the worst part of the business," Schachte said. Still, during the lockout, all the officials did was pray for an end to the labor dispute so they could get back at it.
"I missed the guys, being around the guys. And obviously, I missed the game," Morin said. "I was born into it. It's been part of me my whole life."
• Even officials have luggage woes. Devorski's bags failed to arrive with him in Vancouver. The next morning, he put his spare contact lenses in two glasses of water and went downstairs for a coffee. By the time he returned, the maid had cleaned the room and disposed of the water and lenses. Luckily, Devorski's gear and additional lenses arrived in time for the game.• NHL commissioner Gary Bettman on officials: "I think Steve Walkom's done a great job. I think the officials are doing a great job. But the fact of the matter is, officials are human. Officials are under the microscope and get criticized for every call and non-call they make, but I think having the most difficult officiating job in sports, they do a great job and we're going to stay at it. "There are those small number that have been critical, but overwhelmingly the response from the players, from the teams and, most importantly, from our fans has been great and we're going to stay the course."
"I think it's a big change for a lot of the senior guys. It's like starting all over again," said the native of Guelph, Ontario, whose younger brother Greg is an NHL linesman.Every time a stick leaves the ice surface and becomes parallel to the ice, referees have had to intuit that a player is no longer going for the puck, but is positioning himself for a possible foul. A defender takes one hand off his stick and another red flag goes up in officials' minds because history suggests that player is going to use that hand to grab a chunk of an opposing forward's jersey or his stick. "That's a red flag," said Lee, 35, who refereed his first NHL game in 2000. He admits that the first few weeks of the season were nerve-wracking trying to adjust on the fly. "I'm much more relaxed than I was in Game 1," he said. Linesmen, too, have had to relearn their craft. Two-line passes through the neutral zone are now live. Passes that would have been called icing are now, depending on the linesmen's discretion, live. Offsides plays that would have been blown dead are now kept alive with the tag-up rule. All of these plays occur in the blink of an eye. All have the potential to change the course of a game, a season. "The trick is to visualize and react," Schachte said. "You don't want to be thinking." Of course, that means visualizing and reacting to a whole new set of circumstances. "Jean and I had probably seen every play 100 times and we just reacted. Now, we change a bunch of rules and there are situations we haven't seen in our mind. That was hard for the first month," said Schachte, who has called more than 1,500 NHL games and whose assignments include the 1996 World Cup of Hockey and the 2002 Olympics. For referees whose nightly work is most-widely criticized by coaches, players and the media, the mental part of the game goes like this: If you say to yourself, that's not that bad, "that's the trigger. That's telling you that's a hook," Devorski said. The referees' challenge has been to internalize what is now a foul, as well as forget the long-held notion that the game's situation also dictates how the game is going to be called. In the past, calls made in the first and second periods were different from those made in the third. Calls made in a midseason game would be different than calls made in a playoff game. Referees were loath to make calls in overtime or late in the third period unless the fouls were of the most flagrant variety. They talked of calling "good penalties." Everyone, from coaches to players to league officials, accepted it would be so. Now the foul is the thing, first minute of the game, last minute of the game, overtime. And if the league has its way, it will be so in mid-April, and in mid-June, when the next Stanley Cup champion is crowned. "Now, if it's a penalty, it's a penalty. If it's not, it's not," Morin said. "It's a new culture from where we were and where we came from. It's now light years apart," Schachte added. "That wasn't what anybody wanted to see. We've done an about-face." To try and make what is a dramatic change more seamless, Walkom has brought linesmen and referees together as a single unit as opposed to twin entities that intersected at game time and then dispersed. "The big thing is that we needed to optimize the four-man system," Walkom said. "One way to do that was to get everybody working together each and every game." The four working this game in Pittsburgh say they have never seen the officiating brotherhood more unified. In the past, linesmen and referees were "kind of separate," Schachte said. They received different e-mails and memos from the league than the referees. They traveled in a different pattern. "We didn't really know what was going on the other side," he said. Now, the crews work together on a more consistent basis, creating a greater sense of teamwork. There are general missives from the league that all officials see. Everyone is in on the same conference calls. "Our whole group is just so much closer," Schachte said. "It's so much healthier. Right from training camp, we came out of there feeling like a million bucks. I see everybody doing the same thing. Never in my 24 years have I seen it like this." Devorski, for instance, didn't know Lee at all, but is in the midst of a stretch of 10 straight games with the native of St. John, New Brunswick. Such familiarity is crucial to familiarity on the ice, which is crucial to consistency of game calling. "If you and I are meshing, the game goes fairly smoothly," Devorski said. If not, then there are two referees that are out of sync, two officiating teams out of sync, "and two coaches that don't know what's going on. It's great when you see two arms go up [to call a penalty]." For officials, there is no scoreboard that reflects their performance. In the past, the league would send out video e-mails when an official was deemed to have missed something. Now, all game officials receive a DVD of their game for self-critique. An officiating manager watching the game live or on television can also direct an official to an area he thinks needs to be addressed. As well, the league also provides officials with DVDs featuring live footage and weekly updates "to keep everyone sharp," Walkom explained. "They don't keep score for us [every night], but you've got to do your best every night," Schachte said. "There's not much else out there that gets you 2½ hours of cutthroat competition like a hockey game. You can't do this job without that passion." Passion is one thing; a thick skin and a healthy sense of self are also important qualities. "Someone doesn't need to tell you because in our hearts we know, I screwed up or I could have done that differently. We didn't get to this level by being complacent," Lee said. "We all got here different ways. But the common trait is that we're our own best critics." "I'm tough on myself," added Devorski, who was recently selected to call the Olympic tournament in Turin in mid-February. "We have a lot of sleepless nights if we know we've missed one or two calls."
On this night, Pittsburgh super rookie Sidney Crosby flops to the ice, drawing a Philadelphia penalty. During the ensuing television timeout, Gagne slides up to Devorski and puts his arm loosely around his back. The two are smiling."I kind of reminded him that maybe it was a little bit like last night. He started laughing," Gagne said. Scott Burnside is an NHL writer for ESPN.com.